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Will People Who Have Never Heard the Gospel Go to Hell?

October 9, 2023

This one is complicated so in order to answer it properly we must begin by considering four very important aspects about God’s character. First, God is a loving God full of grace and mercy. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” I don’t know of one human being who would be willing to give their child to die for me or for you for any reason, but God did!

Second, God does not want anyone to go to hell. This is why He sent His only Son to die on the cross in the first place – to give everyone an opportunity to have eternal life. He has delayed His return to earth so as to allow more people time to repent from sin and turn to Him. Peter tells us, “The Lord is… patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Third, God is fair. Romans 2:6 says that God “will repay each person according to his deeds.” God punishes people for their own sins. Being an all-knowing God means He renders sound and fair judgment. His knowledge is perfect and complete. He knows everything. He knows the future. He knows all the circumstances. For this reason, I do not believe God would send a person who is incapable of understanding and responding to the Gospel (such as those who are very young or mentally challenged) to hell. This would go against His fair and loving nature.

Fourth, God is holy and righteous. Isaiah describes God as “the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15). God’s promise is holy and His deeds are holy. Objects dedicated to Him are holy. Holy means to be set apart and free from sin and evil. Because God is holy, He requires that all those who follow Him be holy. That only comes through faith in Jesus Christ – “He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). This is the plan of redemption that God established. It is THE plan. There is no other way. Those who, after hearing the Gospel, refuse to believe God will be eternally separated from Him, the end result of their willful choice.

Romans 3:23 gives us the bad news – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But in the very next verse we get the good news – “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The holy nature of God means that God is obligated to pour out His wrath on those who sin. However, because God is also a God of love, He has provided a means of forgiveness. Here we see God’s holiness in complete harmony with His love.

But what about those people old enough and capable of understanding and responding to the Gospel, but have never heard it? Will they be held responsible and be sent to Hell because they did not accept Christ? Romans Chapter 1:18-32 provides us the answer. It’s a long passage but let’s read it…

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.

Therefore, God gave them up to vile impurity in the lusts of their hearts, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for falsehood, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged natural relations for that which is contrary to nature, and likewise the men, too, abandoned natural relations with women and burned in their desire toward one another, males with males committing shameful acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper, people having been filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, and evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unfeeling, and unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them.”

People will go to hell for not responding to that light which God gave them.

According to Paul all people are completely without excuse for two reasons: (1) their conscience and (2) God’s creation. Their conscience “is evident within them.” It is the imprint of God that He placed inside each person. We all know that God (a higher power greater than ourselves) exists. We instinctively know right from wrong. God also reveals His character in creation. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 19:1 – " The heavens tell of the glory of God; and their expanse declares the work of His hands." Paul said “His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived.” Nature tells us that there IS a God. You cannot walk through the forest, in the mountains, along the seashore and gaze up at the stars and not realize that there is a divine power and intelligence behind it all. God is clearly seen in nature.

God has revealed himself to everyone – even to that tribesman in the most remote regions of Africa; to that aborigine in the outback of Australia; to that businessman on Wall Street; and to that Eskimo in the Alaskan wilderness. Even godless unbelievers are aware that there is a God, though their concepts about Him may vary. Every tribe that has ever been discovered past or present believes in some kind of “god” or has some system of worship. Paul says that God HAS revealed Himself “so that they are without excuse.” He has placed inside each person some knowledge of Him and revealed Himself in creation.

Let me provide an example of “without excuse.” I am driving down the highway and I get pulled over by the State Trooper officer for driving 60 mph in a 45-mph speed zone that IS posted 45 mph. I tell the officer that I did not see the 45-mph sign. Will he give me a ticket or not? Yes. I will not get out of the ticket because of my ignorance. I am still held responsible for obeying the law. It is MY responsibility to know the law and to obey it. We have an expression, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” So, the answer to the original question is this: A person who does not respond to Jesus Christ in faith and accept Him as their Lord and Savior WILL go to hell. A lot of people would accuse me of being narrow-minded for saying that, but that IS the system of salvation that God has established and ignorance is no excuse.

At this point I feel compelled to add something here. I believe that, based on John 1:9, God gives to everyone the light of Christ and that He judges every human fairly according to the revelation of that light. That verse states that “the true Light [Jesus] that, coming into the world, enlightens every person.” So, what did that person do with the truth that they received? I am convinced that a person who truly seeks God will find Him and that our big all-knowing, loving God will somehow get a witness to them that will tell them the good news about salvation in Jesus Christ (note: this could be via a personal witness, vision, written word, radio, TV, internet, etc.).

If God is going to allow all of those people who are ignorant and never seek Him to go to heaven, then let me propose a better way to evangelize the world – let’s just shut up all the churches, burn all the Bibles so that everyone will live in complete ignorance and then go to heaven. The problem is that they ARE still held responsible for it. This is why the mandate to take the gospel to all people in all nations is so important. It’s why Paul felt responsible to preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to the uncultured, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Romans 1:14).

God desires a relationship with man and wants people everywhere to pursue Him. In the words of our Lord Himself: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

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